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Archive for October, 2010

Friends’ blogs

I have some friends here, friends who blog. (And yes they are much more on top of their blogs than I am.)

Check ’em out:

Dave’s Boring Blog

Ant and Jules in Namibia

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Work

First a disclaimer: I’m writing this post as if today were still a month ago. If I wrote this post as if today were today it would contain much swearing.


After having been funemployed for over 6 months I finally entered the working world again. Okay maybe “working world” is a bit of an overstatement for a VSO volunteer post, but I did once again resume a life of getting up before noon and knowing what day of the week it was.

Sign on my office door

 

My VSO job in Namibia is “ICT Advisor to the Ministry of Education, Kunene region”. (“ICT” standing for information communication technology.)  I work at the district office for the MoE. It’s a fairly large office of roughly 30 staff and the central bureaucratic hub for all things related to education for the region. My job there is to advise on IT practices at the office. I’m not really sure what that means. What I’ve pieced together is that they want me to: train the office staff (they didn’t say what in), give them internet (as God gave us light) and to generally find other ways they can use IT techniques to better their work. That all seems fairly straightforward and easy, but I’m sure that in a month’s time I’ll find out that getting anything useful done around here is near impossible. But I’ll deal with that then.

In my first few weeks here I had to adjust to the quirks of Namibian office life. These things seem completely normal to me now, but at the beginning they did surprise and amuse me a lot, so I think they’re worth sharing.

  • My office is a high security zone. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because the internet server is here, along with a big switch that has many cables coming out of it. So they must think that all this stuff is worth millions of dollars and therefore must be highly guarded. Really though, apart from the time that would have to be spent reconfiguring things if anything did get stolen, the net worth of the contents of my office are quite low. There are much nicer computers in many of the other offices which do not have big iron gates with two padlocks protecting them.
  • I have to lock my office door every time I leave, even if it’s just for a minute to go to the bathroom. (That’s probably because of the last point and also because of the next.)
  • Random people, including children, wander into my office all the time, for various reasons:
    – to sell me insurance
    – to sell me tomatoes
    – to ask for money
    – to ask if they can borrow my cup to have a drink of water
    – to ask if I can give them a job
    – because they’re drunk and have gotten lost on their way home from the bar
    – because there’s a white lady in here and they want to stare
    – and of course because their computer is broken and they want me to fix it
    Most of these are met with a polite “no”.
  • There is no toilet paper (or soap) in the bathroom but luckily each month everyone gets given their own roll of toilet paper. As with all things in Namibian government offices it’s very formally done: a lady comes around to each person’s office with a bag of TP rolls and an official form where we have to sign and date for our received roll. (They haven’t thought to give out soap yet, so I bring my own, and get weird looks for it.)
  • The bathrooms are very smelly and disgusting and probably don’t get cleaned more than once a month. Our offices, on the other hand, are spotless! There are women constantly cleaning the office. They come in every morning to sweep my floors and wipe my desk. (Meaning that I have to move out of their way and clear my desk every day.) Every other week or so they come in to polish the floors with one of those big buffer machines. Back home office cleaning generally happens after office hours, but I guess here no one could be trusted with an office key so they have to do it while people are working.
  • People don’t use email.
  • People talk to each other by yelling across the hall. (I wonder it the last two are related.)
  • There’s no such thing as inappropriate office behaviour here. On my first day I was introduced by a co-worker to some of the other staff as his “future wife”. People also make dirty jokes openly and act flirtatiously to get others to do their work.

This is just my list of superficial oddities that I’ve noticed in the office. There is a much longer list of examples of strange office culture, formalities and unnecessary bureaucracy that I could go on about. I haven’t been here long enough to fully appreciate them all though, so I’ll save those for when I’ve been here a bit longer. By that point I’m sure I’ll be much more disgruntled and will therefore write a much more entertaining post!

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